Tagged: Teaching

So you want to teach?

“As an experienced teacher, what is your advice to teachers who are just starting out?” I have been asked this question many times. At times, I dispensed with a bit of advice, often I have either had no time, tact or heart to really tell it like it is, speak my mind. This is an attempt to connect a bunch of lose but common threads in my answers over the years in conversations with hundreds of pre-service or recently graduated teachers, many of them my close friends and colleagues. This is a broad conversation, not a gospel to go by but if you if find it useful – please help yourself.

For the record, I’ve been a professional high school teacher for 16 years in mostly government schools, in one of which I work full time. I worked for three years at university running workshops for pre-service teachers and I hold a full Bachelor and Masters by Research in education (my PhD never saw the finish line). I have also actively mentored probably over 50 practicum students. I have been writing, talking, thinking about education for close to two decades now. In short – I am far from ‘knowing everything’ but I do have a few runs on the board. Enough padding …

Whether you are just curious about teaching and want to give it a go or you have a fire of inspiration burning inside you – you first need to seriously, brutally honestly answer this question – why (do you want to) teach? When I ask this question, I get the usual array of ‘making the difference’, ‘change things’, ‘give back’, ‘challenge myself’ and the likes. All good, noble predispositions. But they are the starting points, not the ends of your work and conversations. Chances are they will undergo tempering, changing, dissolving even in the heat of the days (and nights!) of being a teacher. There may be times you’ll realise that the “difference” you want to make is not exactly one desired by the student or his family, there may be times where “giving back” will be replaced by mostly frantically taking in. And more. But please – as hope-less as it seems sometimes, education rests on the premise of hope. A necessary trap that we all fall in sometimes too. That’s OK.

The urge to help people is a must in teaching. It is precondition to set foot in class. But please – don’t try to ‘save’ the world or people, especially those in the lower socio-economic areas. I say that not because I would not want you to inspire young minds or because I doubt the agency of people (including myself) in trying to do so. I say that because I have seen the ugliness of well meaning middle class salvationism so many times, ignoring kids stories and context to lead the charge to be ‘more like me/us’.

Even if you don’t fall for the seductive saviour trick, you will face so many ethical choices about who you save, at what cost do you stand on one side that it will seriously mess with your mission. I for one have often said, written about, that one of the hardest things in teaching is choosing which student(s) you are going to care less about.

Please, think twice before wanting to be a hero teacher. This impulse can be very strong and seductive but please – lead an examined teacher’s life. While you are trusted with an enormous power, influence and, if nothing else, time with the young ones, you are not some demigod with magical powers that will make disappear the effects of things like poverty, abuse, even privilege in students’ lives. It does not mean you are helpless either but be brutally honest and constantly revise what you can and can’t do and achieve in your teaching. Less is sometimes more  when you ask some hard questions that begin with ‘why?’.

And just what do you understand “teaching” is? In his outstanding book The Beautiful Risk of Education (highly recommend!), Gert Biesta calls teaching as bringing something new to the educational situation, something that wasn’t there before, a form of transcendence. But, as Biesta points out, always know that whether you achieve that as a teacher and someone will be taught what you teach is beyond your control. You are giving a gift that you don’t have because teaching is “not an experience that can be produced by the teacher” – that experience is only ever produced by the student. Building relationships with students will definitely open the possibilities, but not guarantee, that your gift will be received and done so in ways intended. This is an inherently uncertain, messy, dynamic process and often depends on factors way beyond your control, awareness even. And it is this existential ‘weakness’ of it that makes teaching such a great profession but one so hard to explain in a world obsessed with control and predictability. Whatever you do, please don’t turn into a real estate agent saying ‘I sold them the house perfectly but they didn’t buy it.”

The next of the few ‘core’ questions I ask you to honestly wrestle with is this: What do you see teaching, school is for? Straw poll time … Choose your favourite from the following four statements, borrowed from Symes & Preston’s seminal work:

A) Teaching is about preparing kids for the world of work out there
B) Teaching is about cultivating independent mind based on collected human knowledge.
C) Teaching is about allowing kids personality and interest to flourish.
D) Teaching is about getting kids to learn how to make the world more fair and just for all.

A is the instrumentalist, ‘human resources’ view of education as primarily preparation for work. Loved by business and politicians and in strong ascendancy over the past few decades. B is a liberal, often labelled conservative, view of education that privileges cultivation of independent mind based on collected human knowledge. Ancient Greeks, rational thinking, high culture spring to mind. The ‘progressive’ C wants to allow kids’ interest and personality flourish. Enter passion-based learning, discovery, progressive labels. D, the emancipatory view of education, has at its heart equity, fairness, social and environmental justice.

Chances are you favoured one or two, or perhaps couldn’t decide because they are all important. They are indeed! What is important in all this is not so much that you know the finer details of these goals and approaches (I do invite you to read these works though and ponder further). What I think is important is that they sometimes overlap and complement each other but often they also grate against each other, in spikes and lulls of tension, depending on the context. Don’t believe it? What do you make of a Principal of a blue-collar school ditching Philosophy & Ethics programme with the words “that’s not for our kids”? What do you make of cries of ‘dumbing down’ when the reading requirements replace a classical text with film? How about the frenzy around PISA results? Curriculum wars? Chasing standardised NAPLAN scores versus individual flourish? A colleague that is drilling kids “for their own good” to pass tests while you see their creativity and passion crushed (and vice versa!)? The speak of business ‘competitiveness’ and ‘agility’ while paying lip service to issues of social equity? Examples are endless!

So why is it important to wrestle with this question? Because just about everything you do, everything your school, system, even country’s entire education system does revolves around this question of utility and purpose of educational efforts – the ‘why’, rather than the much more talked about ’what’, ‘how’ or even that bean counting ’how much’. It is rarely a case of one clean purpose and there is a good chance that during your teaching career you may have to dislike a particular purpose and bite your tongue to feed your family but equally stand on the barricades for things and ways of teaching that matter to you deeply. But it is rarely a clean cut. Get used to it.

The talk of things in and beyond your control brings me too my next ‘go to’ line. Be aware that for all the talk of teacher professionalism, you are increasingly at the mercy of people who are largely the least learned about education and want to make things easy, controllable, predictable, especially for their own progeny and/or agendas – parents and politicians. Many times you will bury your face in your palms, curse, worry, rage, shout helplessly (at your school administrator or with them too) about what they demand. They will ignore your professional competency in understanding how you or kids you are in charge of work or would like to work. You will be asked to comply and be encouraged to climb up the ladders of teacher proficiency, where, like your students, you can be measured, evaluated and governed (well, you will govern yourself, from inside by what is stated as desirable by various professional standards bodies…look up ‘governmentality’ for more). You will be cornered by parents who are increasingly positioned as consumers. You will be placed on the pedestal by pundits, who think that your ‘teacher quality’ (important nuance of language of here – see this post by Corinne Campbell) always and necessarily makes up for all other individual and/or structural inequalities that affect you, your students and their parents. Many of them, with good intentions, no doubt, will assign you those mentioned demigod powers … in being an effective, efficient and preferably easily measured technician of the empire they run or want to create.

Definitions of professionalism as something based in trust, sound knowledge and good judgement change with every new lot of ‘accountability’ measures. If you think about it, these measures sit right opposite of trust. In the extreme, we end up acting as a bunch of risk-averse and litigious business partners, ticking boxes to cover our backsides. In the daily reality, we more likely end up with a ton of paperwork. Transactions replacing relationships.

Related to this trend is the increasing importance given to ‘data’. These are ‘data driven’ times, no doubt. Please be aware that data by itself is meaningless, we breathe meaning into it. It also raises more questions than it often answers and there are increasingly sophisticated ways and incentives to manipulate it.  It can be extremely useful but it can also lead to the “business capital view” of good teaching (credit Andy Hargreaves) as something that is technically simple, a quick study, can be mastered readily, should be driven by data, is about enthusiasm, hard work, raw talent and measurable results, and that it is (even) often replaceable with online instruction. Speaking of data – I for one know very little about what and how big a difference I make as teacher in a single kid’s life. How would anyone else know, even ‘measure’ it? Metrics give us the seductive sense of knowing. Education is not a science and there are many problems in seeing it that way.

So what do you do in case “this is not the gig you signed up for”? Just be a good boy/girl, grin and bear it while stewing inside? You don’t have to, no. Pick your battles carefully, embrace the absurdity of institutional life and sometimes laugh subversively. Sometimes that is all you will be able to do, sometimes you will genuinely shift things. Good colleagues and support will be invaluable in doing that. Join a union.

If not already, you will be bombarded with ‘what works’ in teaching. My default short reply to such a complex question comes from Dylan William: In education, everything works somewhere, nothing works everywhere. Yes, there are some very appealing, very good but also very dodgy, unsound theories, practices and operators out there (usually but not necessarily making a buck out of it). It always helps to read critique of a particular technique, theory, approach and you can weed the chaff either by yourself or with a colleague or two.

Another good question to ask before adopting ‘the best thing’ is: at the expense of what? Like life, teaching is a stream of trade offs and opportunity costs. Stories of overworked teachers abound. If you just keep adding – you WILL burn out like a moth on a flame! “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” Aristotle got that one spot on.

This is not necessarily to pooh-pooh everything that comes across your desk. I simply wish that you wisen up and be more circumspect than the chanting Kool Aid crew on board the latest (or recurring) bandwagon. Your skepticism may make you look like a smug bastard who is ‘not a team player’ sometimes but your integrity is worth more than a few extra warm and fuzzies. I hope so.

Check how your colleagues work, learn from and with them – but don’t beat yourself about being them or beating them. In my experience, teachers (myself included of course), have this terrific tendency to find grass greener on the other side. We see a colleague doing something well and think ‘why aren’t I doing this as well’. This is while we are doing something else, and possibly far more important, as well or better that that colleague or another teacher. This breeds a kind of highly corrosive and confidence-sapping ‘status anxiety’. Yet, it only attacks when we compare ourselves with our like-teaching peers. For example, a teacher in a poor school with unmotivated students might genuinely like, even admire stuff done in a well resourced school with highly motivated students but (s)he is not going to lose sleep over it as there is chasm between the two contexts. She will however, fret about not doing something as well as her colleague in the same school, as she ’should be doing better’. Similarly, a new grad might not compare themselves to a veteran of many years but (needlessly) worry about something she is (not) doing as well as her younger peer with the same cohort of kids.

Share and be proud of the good stuff you do, the wins. Absolutely. But it is probably as important if not more important to share the bad stuff. If your lesson fails, you just can’t work with some student or group, you are struggling with demands of a particular kind – say it, honestly so! I remember a young colleague feeling, in her words, “liberated” when she asked a far more experienced colleague to handle a particularly challenging student. The expert came, worked in that class and, when asked by the younger colleague on what to do, replied: “I’m stuffed if I know what to do with this kid.” Eventually the two together worked out a good strategy but the honest admission was the first step to it. In the environment where teachers are sometimes explicitly but mostly implicitly asked to ‘put their best and shiny work forward’ to inspire, get a promotion, make school or themselves look good and similar ‘work on themselves’ (look up Stephen Ball’s seminal work on the notion of ’performativity’), sharing the downs and fails is a brave, not sexy, but essential thing to do.

As a young graduate you are or will be out looking for and getting a job soon. I sincerely hope you get one but don’t forget that sometimes you get a job not because your fantastic grades, or new inspiring ideas or your funky prac or great application. You are simply cheaper than a teacher with years under their belt. And “when education is about the money we have to spend on it, efficiency is the vision, sadly so.” (credit Will Richardson) Evidence of that abounds, sadly so too.

However, when working in a school I sincerely hope that you will and should be afforded at least the same if not more support than someone more experienced. Do not be afraid to ask for a mentor. A good mentor and a bit of extra time to work on your teaching is gold. But please do respect the colleagues who have been at the school before you by neither adoring nor belittling them. I have actually learned many things from new graduates and have been grateful to mentor them in a mutually beneficial way. Plan your lessons but always be prepared to change the plans. As you go along, you will develop your repertoire, your style, own ‘bag of tricks’ that will suit you and only you. It takes time.

Speaking of growing and charting new ground – try to be at the ‘bleeding edge’ of something new. Not (just) to boost your CV but to experience how difficult it is to get adults excited using or doing something that you think it is valuable. Don’t forget those lessons the next time you are sitting in some PD and the speaker is droning, passionately so, about their bee under the bonnet. It is humbling.

You might still be at uni reading this or you have just finished your degree. You are hungry for strategies and tips and ‘what works’ … but a lot of what you have (or had) at uni was about the theory and the pondering rather than the nitty-gritty you are now screaming for. Sounds right? Dear colleague – teaching is so, so incredibly broad that uni will not and cannot prepare you for and how to deal with all eventualities that will happen to you, sometimes in a single day. There was never a lesson to prepare me for what to do when a 13 year old boy starts masturbating at the back of the class, another smearing peers with poo, a refugee with no language, first hand war experience and a bad temper thrown in your hardest class, or thousands (mostly less graphic) examples like that. University is a framework, a base, there to broaden, deepen your horizons, not merely reduce you to the matters of instructional technique with a smattering of essential content. Uni is there to make you think, question, grow, explore, build upon, ideally so. I also understand that my idealism may be misplaced as you just want to get it over with and land that job. I just hope we can have a respectful, stimulating, adult professional conversation in the staffroom.

I could continue on dispensing advice here but you probably have a lesson to prepare or something else. That’s OK, I understand – so do I (I am a teacher, remember). I finish with a plea for you to be kind. To yourself, colleagues, kids you work with. Sometimes the kid who is wrecking your lesson is fighting a battle you know nothing about. It is a hard thing to do because you are fighting your own battle. Seek support, actively so. Unwind regularly, have a hissy fit, laugh a lot, even inappropriately so sometimes. You will be tired (here is why) in this ‘bipolar’ profession as the highs are high and the lows are low. Or as someone (lost the name, sorry) on Twitter quipped: Teaching is like a hangover – after a bad day you swear you’ll never do it again, then you recover and you do it again.

Just do know that teaching is a great profession that the world needs and will continue to do so. It’s a people business. Risky. Messy. Beautiful.

If this post resonates with you and want to chat on, let me know in the comments below or on Twitter @lasic but please do not be offended by the lack of immediate reply – I do have a (teacher’s) life. Cheers.

UPDATE: I have had a response to this post like no other, mostly on social media. Among the congratulatory and grateful comments, these two stood out. They were written by a close friend currently in his first year of teaching and a colleague I used to work with and remains one of my favourite and dearest educators anywhere. Have a read below …

Which is more difficult: world’s toughest sport or teaching?

 more difficult

With the Rio Olympics and school term in full swing, I poured a glass or red and asked myself: Which one is more difficult: the world’s toughest sport or … teaching?

For the record, I played THE sport for 20 years, 15 of them at the highest international level, coached it at that level for another 5. I have also been a teacher for 15 years. If you want to see my playing/coaching as well as teaching/education credentials I would be happy to expand. In short, it would be reasonable to say I know enough about both to attempt to answer the question. I do so using five categories, defined by a suitable dictionary definition and stated in each case.

Pressure (a sense of stressful urgency caused by having too many demands on one’s time or resources)

In the sport – the kind of pressure in the definition is incredibly intense, focused, but then again fairly organised and usually does not last very long. The battle(s) last seconds, minutes, hour(s) at most. Sure, the lead up is often interpreted as ‘pressure’ but that’s not the thing in the heat of the battle of either centre-forward or fast break or man-down defence that you tell your grandkids about one day and for which you are known for.

Mention “sense of stressful urgency caused by having too many demands on one’s time or resources” to me as a teacher and I’ll thank you for putting just about any day I spend at school in a sentence. The ‘urgency’ part could erupt any moment, the demands on me by students, colleagues, admin, parents and beyond are too many to count and always too many to fully attend to. They are also constant, never ending it seems. As for intense, telling a child in tears and standing in front of you that you can’t help them because you have to help someone else, putting on a calm face discovering the lesson you’ve planned with twenty teens wielding sharp tools is going to fall apart because some unforeseen event and you have to come up with a great Plan B (and C, and D …) on the spot, copping abuse from a parent or their progeny while ‘acting adult’ are just a few of the countless examples of getting the butterflies in your stomach going like crazy. You rarely ‘nail it’ and there is a sense of constant triage, rarely one of systematic, orderly, heavily invested in yet predictable progress and feedback you get by scoring that goal.

Decision-making (action of process of making important decisions)

If you have never heard a sports commentator hailing a player or coach for their ‘decision-making ability’ please listen out for it. In a dynamic sport like water polo, decisions are made frequently. Position, ball location, shot clock, score, momentum, shooter, tactics are just some of the factors that a water polo player regularly takes into account throughout the game, more so when they are directly involved in the action. “Seeing a step (or two) ahead” is a hallmark of a great player. The playmakers are a valuable commodity for this very reason and their fast-processing ability, borne with and out of experience.

Just how often does a teacher make a decision? According to research quoted by the highly respected Dr Larry Cuban  – one every 0.7 seconds! Yes, you read that right. Just like elite athletes, they mix the routine with the unexpected. Non-stop. They, well we, have to ‘read the play’ and make decisions that are sometimes more akin to chess grand masters, eight or more steps ahead, just to bring a lesson to an agreeable end after one or more (un)expected, teacheable or otherwise, events. And that’s every day, not just during the weekend league game.

Endurance (the ability to endure an unpleasant or difficult process or situation without giving way, the capacity of something to last or to withstand wear and tear)

Water polo players have to bear a lot and play at their peak of mental and physical capacities for an hour a game. Add to this the gruelling training day in day out that makes games seem easy, if possible at all, and you can’t possibly be a wimp. You simply would not make it. You would eliminate yourself and/or have all the excuses before not making the grade. Bear the wear and tear for about twenty or so years, if lucky maybe ten of those at the top level.

As a teacher, unlike my sporting career, the toughest years were probably the first few years. As the aquatic pun would have it, I was “thrown in the deep end” and I had to swim. I had to withstand the storms of volatile teens, unfamiliar content, new surrounds, endless curricular changes, difficult staffrooms and my own demons of insecurity. I’ve had to read articles screaming that “if only you [teachers] were better our kids would be better off” while knowing very little of what I do will make a lick of difference for all the structural issues that are the real issue but one too hard to address. And please don’t think life has gotten all peachy now with a few years of teaching under my belt. My elephant skin got thicker, my ears more attuned, my head wiser but my heart no less aching seeing the issues, especially those relating to inequities affecting those in my care.

Skill (the ability to do something well; expertise)

Breeding a top class water polo player is a messy, risky proposition. The genes, the environment, the systematic development, the web of career-defining moments has to align just right (and with a dose of luck) to produce a top level player. Very, very few reach it there. There, the elite make it look easy. They have the range of skills, from swimming, shooting, blocking, defending, turning, reading the play and more. Yet their expertise is beyond the mere technical ability. They seem to live and breathe their game. Youngsters and others try to copy, emulate, inspired by them, only to discover theirs is not a bag of skills to master but their own path or rather their own web of moments that can’t be simply copied, cloned or somehow reproduced to the same effect.

If you have been in the teaching game over the past few years, you will have noticed the intensification of attempts to define ‘good teaching’, see what skills and attributes it’s made of and then come up with a formula to follow in (re)producing it in both the new graduates and practicing teachers. Frameworks, standards, instrumental measurements are attempts to reduce the irreducible, contextual act of (good) teaching that is far, far more complex than any Olympic final in water polo or any sport for that matter. Teachers are increasingly expected to be a competent, expert even presenter, negotiator, mediator, public speaker, manager, counsellor, coach, mentor, technician, organiser, nurse, researcher, statistician and more. And while the range of skills and abilities demanded is expanding for both elite athletes and teachers, the latter win hands down.

Toughness (ability to absorb energy and deform without fracturing)

The elite water polo players are a tough bunch. They may not carry the bruises of various football codes, crashes on the roads or falls of equipment but they certainly know what ‘cracking under pressure’ means in a physical and mental sense. I for one had to play (no, win!) a game where my entire next year’s salary and that of my coach and teammates depended on it (we won…just). Elite athletes see on TV and the ones you don’t are under immense pressure to perform. Deform without fracturing. And they can only do that for a few years.  

Speaking of deforming and fracturing, the figures for teachers’ careers are starting to look scarily more like the short-lived careers of elite athletes. Not because they ‘get old and slow’ and lose the athletic edge but simply because they get bruised and drained by the emotional highs and lows, the expectations, shaped largely by societal expectations but (soon) internalised as their own, incessant demands on their mental and physical capacities and more. The statistics are scary. In Australia, not unlike in USA, UK and similar environments, close to half of the teaching graduates leave the profession within the first five years. The tough survive.  

So finally, which one is more difficult: toughest sport in the world or teaching? I have to disappoint you here – there is no clear winner. The point of this exercise was not to actually have a clear winner (good for you if you have decided for one or the other though). They are fundamentally different in their purpose: performance, winning and beating the rest versus learning and building capacity in others. There are too many variables to come near any commonly agreed upon decision. The point of the exercise was however to appreciate the many similarities they share. If you are going to pick the finer points and argue technicalities – you’ve missed the point of this exercise.

To finish off this little exploration, I would like to ask you to do the following few things:

Appreciate the effort of not just the athletes you see on TV but of all those who bust their guts every day in their chosen sport. You will never see the vast, vast majority of them but that does not diminish their endeavour. Most don’t do it for the fame and money because, contrary to popular belief, there rarely is a lot of fame and money in sport.

Appreciate the effort of your child’s teachers, many of whom are akin to the elite athletes you cheer for on screen. Except they want your child to do the winning, not themselves. That would be their biggest reward. Fame and money? Please, don’t.

Do not pity neither athletes nor teachers in their difficulties. We do this by choice. Acknowledge, respect but do not pity us. We love what we do, as impossible as that may sound sometimes even to ourselves in the doldrums of struggle. 

Finally, whether it’s some player who missed that final shot or a teacher who somehow did not spot the beautiful talent of your child – the last thing they wanted to do is to do that deliberately. Understand before you blame.

To my student

tough times

I had a tough day at school. Like many others, like many of my colleagues around the school, around the world. I wrote a letter to the four kids with whom I’ve struggled with for over a year now. It was more a catharsis for me than any serious attempt to change some very set patterns. The more I wrote, the more I felt the need to cut the words. At the end – these lines emerged:

I am at your service

I am a gift to you society has paid for

(but I am not a thing and I am not yours)

I don’t ask for or need you to like me

(I have other people to do that)

I care more about the person you become than the grade you achieve

I know things you don’t and I’m happy to share them with you

 

I also know that nobody wants to be trashed, abused and ignored

You don’t

I don’t

Your teacher

Image via lifehack.org

First thing he has ever built

My Principal said she “needed a good story today”. I sent her a pic, here is the short story. You might as well read it too.

Meet Dennis*, an often disengaged 13 year old at our school.

He is in my woodwork class. He missed a couple of weeks at the start of term but has been regular, especially last couple of weeks. He designed, marked out, cut, hand planed, sanded, drilled, glued, clamped, nailed and polished that toolbox. He said it was the “first time he has ever built something”. He mucked up a few corners, cut things a bit short, split a bit of wood but he persisted. He did not give up. He fussed about sanding it “just right”. He used power tools in a safe way at all times. He reminded himself in front of me to put his safety glasses back on. He helped me clean up, charge tool batteries. He helped a kid bang the box together when the kid whacked their finger and couldn’t do it. He told a friend to stop mucking around. He had the biggest smile on his face when done.

He made his first thing at the age of 13 and thought it was really cool. His reflection sheet reads like this (I scribed for him, verbatim, in a busy, noisy workshop):

– Good things about this project? Why?  It was cool because it’s the first time I built something.

– Worst things? Why? The handle, it was too big, then I had to cut it but it didn’t work.

– Most challenging, tricky part? Why? Banging the nails because I whacked my finger.

– Easiest part? Why? Putting the side bits on because it was easy.

– Three things you did well? Used the sander well, used the hammer well, used the drill well.

– One thing you want to improve? Measure properly next time! (and you should have seen a smile on our faces as we both mucked up the measuring part)

He made me feel vindicated to (re)start the workshop at our school. He gives me the energy to push to include making physical things a regular part of what we do at our school.

Nothing ‘21st century’ about it, please. Just “give us [teachers] the tools and we’ll finish the job”.

Happy Easter all.

*Not his real name. But if you have worked at our school over the past couple of years you’ll know him.

Best teacher

Elise is a dear colleague. She has been teaching (only) for two years (English and ESL courses) and is one of those teachers that make me want to push for some kind of merit system of pay and/or recognition. I could go on about Elise here but suffice to say – she is an absolutely brilliant teacher in many, many ways. Most of all, she respects and believes in kids she teaches.

During a conversation this afternoon, she told me a story how a student (often labelled by others as a ‘troublemaker’, ‘tough to teach’ … you know those, right?) challenged a poorly prepared and rude practicum teacher she had recently supervised. Here is the scene and the lines (abbreviated but the gist is there):

Continue reading

Grow a Moodle

moonflower seed after soaking overnight

I have been thinking about and scouring the net for ‘best’ models of trying to get teachers to use Moodle for some time. I have tried a few things myself with mixed success until the most obvious thing hit me.

There are gigabytes of info on ‘growing gap between the teachers and students in using technology’. And what do we mostly do? We get ‘experts’ (adults) and fellow teachers teaching the newbies, reluctant or otherwise. Yet the biggest resource and pool of experts sits right in front of our nose – our students!

Talk about focusing on solutions not the problem…

Continue reading

10 minutes ahead

Oh, the orbital language of ‘21st century skills’ and ‘leadership’.

If you are an educator keen on using technology and wanting others to join you and benefit from it, don’t try to get them to move into “21st century” – just get them to move 10 minutes ahead to the point where they have just learned something simple and useful that will work in their class.

Use the gamers approach to learning – easy entry, easy win then level up and try again. Move them as a colleague, with empathy (“walk in their shoes”) not sympathy (“oh, you poor thing”).

Dean Groom tells it better – thanks mate for this gem. You can tell it below.

(A short blog post never felt better)

You Yankee bastard

home_syd_1966

A few days ago, Phyllis Zimbler Miller, LA-based author of the novel Mrs Lieutenant about the lives of wives of officers in Vietnam War contacted me (via Twitter via Daniel Needlestone from UK!) and expressed interest in the We Remember Vietnam War project I am running with my Year 10 class. She asked me to write a guest post on her blog for her mostly US audience to raise awareness not only about our project but about the involvement of Australians in Vietnam. Here is what I wrote…I hope I got the start right?

You Yankee bastard

Continue reading

Just do it

octopus arm
This Thursday I had the privilege of hearing one of my dearest and friendliest, uber-connected locals Sue Waters giving a keynote on PLN at the EDNA workshop. Great stuff – she managed to bamboozle the audience and have them eating out of her hands at the same time! After her gig we shared a quiet half an hour and the word got onto people who just talk and ponder about change instead of getting their hands dirty. Right on!

Here is my “getting hands dirty” bit, the reason you hear about it is because I am asking for your help and your digital-to-flesh tentacles.

This term, my Year 10 Society & Environment class is looking at Vietnam War as a broad topic. After quite a bit of discussion, brainstorming and even arguments with and among the 22-strong, very ‘mixed ability’ (love a nasty euphemism, don’t you?) class, we thought it would be a good idea to do something that would actually matter beyond “a grade, a tick, and a move on”. So we got ourselves into the national ANZAC School Awards competition. Of course, it wouldn’t be Mr Lasic who planted the idea that we may want to gun for the ‘best use of technology’ category would it 🙂

The class lapped up the challenge. I have NEVER seen them this motivated, keen and engaged. As I write this, I have kids, some of whom who don’t have computers at home (that’s right, call them digital native hey?) going to public library or staying at home to fool around and research the background info CD I had provided. Curious about what we are doing? Here is the link, all explained there – http://weremember.wikispaces.com/

So what is it that we need help with? Put simply, we are creating a digital mash-up map in Google Earth with personal stories about the time of Vietnam War – a mix of primary and secondary source historical data.

If you remember the period and/or if you know someone who lived in that period (particularly in Australia or Vietnam) or know a ‘connector’ who knows others – we would love it if you could tell us one positive and one negative experience related about the (time of and after) Vietnam War.

How?

Go straight to the simple form (full link, you can copy if you like)

http://spreadsheets.google.com/viewform?formkey=cjVfSVJfOTQ2cnd0dGJCY1FEV0NBbEE6MA

OR email the class at weremember09@gmail.com

OR leave a comment below

Now here comes the tentacles part…!

Please pass the message/link to project on in a true Web 2.0 manner (but avoid spam of course) – blog, Twitter, wiki, email. Let’s not forget the old phone and face-to-face either here…

We have already had a few people responding – Roger Pryor (he has already blogged it!), “cpaterso” (a reciprocal Twitter follower and a generous teacher from Sydney whose full name I don’t even know yet (!) and he has already provided some hugely useful personal contacts and suggestions), to name just a couple… within the first ‘public’ day.

This isn’t the first time I am asking for such a thing I know (thank you Charlie Roy, you are a superstar!). Hopefully, I have or (will have) clocked up enough good karma to see the human web in action and show what people can do with technology these days so it matters. So…just do it!

A big please and an even bigger thank you all from me and my bunch of 14-year olds.

One sentence

Good news travels fast. ‘Sticky’ ideas even faster.

In her recent comments, fellow teacher and moodler Mary Cooch (known also as @moodlefairy) mentioned how the staff at their school spend a couple of minutes of their weekly meetings talking about their use of Moodle in the classroom. I loved the idea and in the brief email exchange that followed hinted that I will try to use it here at our school too.

This afternoon, I had a cryptic staff meeting agenda item called ‘Share’.

When I got my turn to speak, I simply asked:

‘Could you please share ONE thing or strategy you have found Moodle useful for in your classroom.”

Silence. Tick, tock, tick, tock – 15 seconds.

Then it opened. What followed was just about the best 8 minutes of my three years at this school – 10 short stories, 10 people, 10 different uses, 10 different skill levels. Genuine, specific, relevant, encouraging … and more we haven’t heard because of the crammed agenda.

As I write this, an email popped into my inbox from a colleague Aaron. This is the last sentence from it:

“What took place in today’s staff meeting is exceptionally rare, so from one colleague to another, well done”

I find myself happy and sad at the same time.

Sad? Because, as Aaron says, it is exceptionally rare. Making such things standard practice won’t change a few staff meetings – it will change the profession we are in.